ACU's graduating seniors ride emotional roller coaster during 1999 undergraduate commencement

For immediate release
May 8, 1999

With more than 5,000 attending, a plethora of camera flashes strobing the interior of Moody Coliseum and constant eruptions of cheers, applause, air horns and shouts of "hallelujah," 424 Abilene Christian University seniors shook hands with ACU president Royce Money and graduated with bachelor degrees.

The mood of the one-and-one-half hour ceremony swayed from sentimental and reflective to boisterously celebratory. Blair Thomas, 1999 senior class president, initiated a serious tone with a charge, not only to the seniors, but to all in the audience.

"Let's not despair wondering who will provide tools to change the world, but realize we are the tools to change the world," he said.

Dr. Willard Tate, associate professor of communication, also delivered a charge to the graduating seniors in similar tone. "Don't ever let anything come in God's number one place," he said.

In the world, he explained, people have one great enemy - time.

"Time is your enemy, disguised as your friend," Tate said. "You have to fight for it. You'll have to fight for time with your family. You think you have plenty of time, but you have to make time when you're there."

Two things are most important in life, Tate told the seniors. God is most important, and family is second. "And don't have a family if you're not willing to sacrifice," he said.

Recalling his mother, Tate said his family consisted of five boys, "and my mother fried a lot of chicken.

"But you know," he continued, "my mother never liked white meat. She always ate the thigh. Now, do I have to explain that story?"

Put God and family first, he emphasized, telling the seniors a story about a jar filled with rocks. When asked if it was full, the character in the story said no and added small pebbles that fell between the rocks. Again, when asked if the jar was full, the character said no and added sand. One more time, when asked if the jar was full, the character said no and added water.

"Now what's the lesson?" Tate asked, saying some might say "there's always room to do a little more." But that was not the lesson.

"If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in," he said. "And God and family are the big rocks."

With that message, Money and Dr. Dwayne VanRheenen, provost, initiated the hooding of the graduates where a person of each senior's choice symbolically draped a cowl over the neck of the senior.

In most cases, the person hooding the senior was a parent, grandparent, spouse or fiancé. And Tate's message of putting God and family first vibrated through the room as graduating seniors hugged and kissed those who hooded them.

The mood changed, though, as each senior was introduced. Cheers swelled as names were called to walk across the stage.

Awards were presented, including the J.W. Roberts Greek award, which went to Andrew Johnson, a Greek major from Wichita Falls.

Other awards included the Board of Trustees awards for the honor and recognition the recipients have brought ACU through their achievements, character and devotion. The recipients included Kari Leigh Firestone, a secondary education major from Carlsbad; Katie Jo Jacoby, a biology major from Bedford; Paul Michael Pasarilla, a biochemistry major from De Soto; and Kimberly Ann Seidman, a biblical studies major from Austin.

The Dean Adams Achievement awards were presented to students who overcame some type of obstacle to achieve their ACU education. Recipients included Maleika Ann Fitzgerald, a communication disorders major from Abilene; Aimee Bunting, an agricultural business major from Clyde; and Misty Rose Swain, an environmental science major from Salinas, Calif.

Ten seniors were honored with LeMoyne G. Lewis Alphi Chi awards for perfect 4.0 grade point averages:

  • Rebecca Ann Barthlow, psychology major from Clyde,
  • Matthew Richard Bower, biochemistry major from Abilene,
  • Brittany Ann Huckabee, electronic media major from Abilene,
  • Andrew Johnson, Greek major from Wichita Falls,
  • Maria Helia Marrs, exercise science major from Abilene;
  • Angie Lyn Meister, accounting major from Scottsdale, Ariz.,
  • Virginia Faye Milstead, English major from Peoria, Ariz.,
  • Diane Elizabeth Moulder, communication disorders major from Grandview,
  • Sherry Ann Sakamoto, elementary education major from Abilene, and
  • Carey Blythe Sharp, biochemistry major from Abilene.

The senior with the second highest grade point average also was honored, Heather MaryAnne Zimbal, English major from Lubbock, who had a 3.974 grade point average.


If you are a member of the media who would like more information about this release, please contact Tom Craig, director of media and community relations, at or call 915-674-2692.

Last update: May 8, 1999
This page is maintained by Tom Craig,